Acknowledging the lingering devastation wrought by the hurricanes last year, Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, called the decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to extend disaster relief funding to houses of worship a mistake in a statement on Wednesday:
“Our hearts ache for communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, California and elsewhere as they continue to recover from the damage wrought by storms and fires and to rebuild the institutions, including houses of worship, that have historically provided comfort and shelter in other turbulent times.
“However, even under these painful circumstances and motivated by compassion, the distribution of public funds through FEMA to any or all tax-exempt religious institutions is a mistake that trades a short-term benefit for long-term problems.
“Federal subsidies, including FEMA funds for recovery, come with federal demands. Religious institutions are notably exempt not just from taxation but from the regulation of their affairs by the government. Interfaith Alliance has long championed the mutual responsibility that government and religion have – constitutionally – to stay out of each other’s affairs.
“Erasing the line between religion and government has long been the goal of the Religious Right. Now, even mainstream faith communities find themselves confused as they confront practical needs and long-held principles.
“We strongly urge individual citizens to contribute to recovery and restoration efforts in their own faith communities and in the neighborhoods that make up their local communities. With equal vigor, we urge FEMA to rescind this administrative ruling to avoid the inevitable pain for institutions and their members that will result from legal challenges that will delay and, we hope, overturn this decision.
“And we urge Congress to ensure that new tax laws enable private contributors to enjoy the encouragements that have girded the historic generosity of American taxpayers.”
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.